Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

GE Contamination Found in Washington Alfalfa

Food

Center for Food Safety

An export shipment of alfalfa from Washington State was rejected after the shipment tested positive for contamination from genetically engineered (GE), herbicide-resistant alfalfa. The news follows on the heels of yet another contamination episode involving GE wheat in Oregon, highlighting the inadequacy of the U.S. regulatory structure for GE crops. Like the vast majority of all GE crops, both of the contaminating GE crops are engineered by Monsanto to be resistant to its herbicide, Roundup.

“For nearly a decade, Center for Food Safety has vigorously opposed the introduction of GE alfalfa, precisely because it was virtually certain to contaminate natural alfalfa, among other severe environmental and economic harms," said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for Center for Food Safety (CFS). "We warned this administration and the industry repeatedly of the significant risk to farmers and the environment. Tragically, neither listened, and this latest contamination is the result of that negligence.” 

At stake is the alfalfa export market, which is the primary supplier to countries like Japan, Saudi Arabia and other countries who prohibit and/or require labeling of genetically engineered foods. In 2012, the alfalfa market was valued at $1.25 billion and has been growing steadily.

When the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) first proposed commercial approval of GE alfalfa in 2006, CSF successfully challenged the ill-advised decision in court, and succeeded in getting its planting halted, even though Monsanto appealed the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, through 2010. That Supreme Court decision, the first ever on any GE crop, left the ban on planting in place. 

Because of CFS’s case, the USDA was forced under court order to rigorously analyze GE alfalfa’s impacts on farmers and the environment; remarkably, it was the first time the agency had ever conducted such analysis, for any GE crop, in 17 years of approving them.

The USDA’s own review concluded that GE alfalfa, unless restricted, would contaminate natural alfalfa, causing the loss of U.S. export markets, as well as dramatically increase pesticide use and drive the rise of Roundup-resistant superweeds. In December 2010, the Obama administration proposed limiting GE alfalfa to restricted planting zones to prevent contamination; however, in January 2011, under tremendous industry pressure, the agency did a complete about-face and again approved the crop without protections.

The administration relied heavily on industry assurances that its “best practices” would prevent GE contamination from occurring, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary. CFS has again challenged that decision in court, however, earlier this year a federal appellate court said the USDA had not violated the law in its decision.

“This is the beginning of a crisis that was foreseeable and preventable," Kimbrell continued. "In order to sell more herbicides and patented seeds, corporations have threatened the livelihood of farmers, exporters and businesses that rely on natural alfalfa. CFS will continue to do everything it can to protect organic and conventional farmers, dairymen, and the public from this threat.”

Alfalfa Background

GE “Roundup Ready” alfalfa is the first engineered perennial crop, meaning it remains in the ground for three-six years and is widely prevalent in wild or feral form throughout America. Because alfalfa is pollinated by bees that can fly and cross-pollinate between fields and feral sources many miles apart, GE alfalfa is likely to irreparably contaminate natural alfalfa varieties. 

Known as the “queen of forages,” alfalfa is the key feedstock for the dairy industry. GE contamination will cause organic dairies to lose their source of organic feed, a requirement for organic dairy, including milk and yogurt products. The organic sector is the most vibrant segment of U.S. agriculture, now a $26 billion a year industry and growing 20 percent annually.

The USDA data show that 90 percent of all the alfalfa planted by farmers in the U.S. was previously grown without the use of any herbicides. Due to the planting of GE alfalfa the USDA estimates that up to 23 million more pounds of toxic herbicides will be released into the environment each year.

Visit EcoWatch’s GE FOOD page for more related news on this topic.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Eureka Sound on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic taken by NASA's Operation IceBridge in 2014. NASA / Michael Studinger / Flickr / CC by 2.0

A 4,000-year-old ice shelf in the Canadian Arctic has collapsed into the sea, leaving Canada without any fully intact ice shelves, Reuters reported. The Milne Ice Shelf lost more than 40 percent of its area in just two days at the end of July, said researchers who monitored its collapse.

Read More Show Less
Teachers and activists attend a protest hosted by Chicago Teachers Union in Chicago, Illinois on Aug. 3, 2020 to demand classroom safety measures as schools debate reopening. KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI / AFP via Getty Images

The coronavirus cases surging around the U.S. are often carried by kids, raising fears that the reopening of schools will be delayed and calling into question the wisdom of school districts that have reopened already.

Read More Show Less
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern holds up COVID-19 alert levels during a press conference at Parliament on March 21, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand. Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images

By Michael Baker, Amanda Kvalsvig and Nick Wilson

On Sunday, New Zealand marked 100 days without community transmission of COVID-19.

Read More Show Less
Medics with Austin-Travis County EMS transport a nursing home resident with coronavirus symptoms on Aug. 3, 2020 in Austin, Texas. John Moore / Getty Images

The U.S. passed five million coronavirus cases on Sunday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, just 17 days after it hit the four-million case mark.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Shawna Foo

Anyone who's tending a garden right now knows what extreme heat can do to plants. Heat is also a concern for an important form of underwater gardening: growing corals and "outplanting," or transplanting them to restore damaged reefs.

Read More Show Less
Malte Mueller / Getty Images

By David Korten

Our present course puts humans on track to be among the species that expire in Earth's ongoing sixth mass extinction. In my conversations with thoughtful people, I am finding increasing acceptance of this horrific premise.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Women sort potatoes in the Andes Mountains near Cusco Peru on July 7, 2014. Thomas O'Neill / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Alejandro Argumedo

August 9 is the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples – a celebration of the uniqueness of the traditions of Quechua, Huli, Zapotec, and thousands of other cultures, but also of the universality of potatoes, bananas, beans, and the rest of the foods that nourish the world. These crops did not arise out of thin air. They were domesticated over thousands of years, and continue to be nurtured, by Indigenous people. On this day we give thanks to these cultures for the diversity of our food.

Read More Show Less